8.16.2012

I'm a Writer; I'm not a Publisher: An Explanation

This self-publishing thing is hard work!
I've been chewing on this post for awhile, wondering when exactly I would write it. I've been feeling a little weary of self-publishing for a while, but I wasn't sure just how to word it or even if I should. Sometimes it's just best to carry on through dips in enthusiasm and productivity and just trust that they'll resolve themselves. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they just become new insights about yourself that you were putting off making, but can no longer ignore. Sort of like my choice to become a vegan.

But then this morning I got a letter from a good friend and avid Creative Commoners listener. He was listening to the latest episode where I talk a little bit about my recently announced signing with Hobbes End Publishing for my book THE LAST SUPPER, and somewhere in there I talked about how it felt good to be with someone who can handle all of the things that I've been having to handle myself, because I'm just getting tired of it, and that there are people who are better suited to doing such things. 

All of this is true, of course. But my friend thought I was throwing self-publishing under the bus after extolling its virtues on various episodes throughout the podcast's history and that any other listeners who were feeling a sense of camaraderie with the show's DIY attitude might have felt a little put off by my words.

So I feel like I need to explain a few things. 

First, when I record podcasts, it's usually late at night--around 11pm. By that time, my general attitude on things is a little more of the "ah fuck it" sort, so my choice of words might have been a little looser than if we had been recording in the middle of the morning or afternoon. However, the sentiment I expressed about my gratitude of finally having a publisher who can handle the things I'm tired of handling remains very true, and I don't believe it's much different from things I've expressed in the past. Second, with regard to the podcast, I share the show with two other people who have their own things they'd like to say, so the time I spend on such topics understandably has to be limited. Hence the blog. 

Now onto the meat of the topic...

It was never my goal to be the "Wil Wheaton" type when it comes to publishing. And by that I mean someone who takes a principled stand to self-publish because of any perceived flaws or drawbacks in the industry. Of course, there ARE flaws and drawbacks in the industry (I spoke about this at length yesterday). But there there are flaws in every industry and people react to those things differently. It has never been my goal, however, to choose self-publishing in order to eschew the traditional side of things. Never. And I have been quite clear on that. I self-publish for a couple reasons. 

Oh yeah, there's another new story!
Coming Soon to an Ebook Store Near You.
1. I write a lot of short stories. The short story market is small, highly competitive, very slow moving, and it doesn't pay much. Furthermore, the exposure that many of these markets grants authors is limited. I believe many people contribute to them for networking purposes more than anything. They also submit because they want to join author organizations like the Science Fiction Writers of America or Horror Writers Association. Again, perfectly acceptable reasons, but those things aren't as high on my priority list as they used to be. I've published with a few small short story markets, and the benefits have been negligible. My main goal is to have readers read my work, and I don't think it was happening with that method. Granted, I do have two stories releasing in an upcoming anthology, but I still think (and so does the producer of the anthology) that self-publishing short stories is a very good and viable thing. It's also a matter of access for readers. It used to be you had to buy magazines, anthologies, or subscribe to small literary publications to find short stories. Or you had to read them online. The active market on Amazon and other retailers shows a healthy demand for shorts, and now with the advent of e-readers, the access to them has been greater than ever. Occasionally if I feel something has a chance in one of the other markets, I will submit, but most of the time I move my short stories straight onto the e-reader markets when they're done (see the accompanying picture!), and I like that.

2. I never intended for my novels to be self-published. Every novel I write and will write will almost always pass through the traditional market first, whether that's agents, Big 6 publishers, or small-medium press.  That's where the exposure is. That's where the money is. That's where you find the people whose number one job is to assemble books and push them out onto the marketplace with all sorts of fanfare. And frankly, they are still the standard bearers for most consumers. When buyers see that a book is self-published, they automatically assume it's not as good. You could put that same book on a Random House listing, and their perception of that book automatically improves. That stigma may be fading a little bit, but it's still a truth most self-published authors don't want to acknowledge, or they do so begrudgingly. Get out there and talk to your average book buyers (the ones who don't know you), and you will see that belief pattern is still very much there.

Buy Me! I'm Awesome! 
The two novels I have up for sale now all went through the agent channel before they went up for sale on Amazon/Smashwords. I believe I know why these novels were turned down, and it was namely a genre/marketability issue. SCARLET LETTERS is a satire, but it probably isn't satire enough, and the market for such fiction is already very small. THE STARGAZERS is a fantasy, but it is a confused fantasy that doesn't know if it's YA or for adults, which makes it difficult to place in a bookstore. But I didn't want them languishing on my hard drive for eternity. I'm proud of those books and I think they are good, so I decided to put them up for sale to see if readers liked them. For the most part, the reviews have been positive, but the sales have been middling. Why? I don't know. Maybe it's not their cup of tea. The more likely answer is it's damn hard to promote things without help, and also because I've been too damn busy writing. Because I'm a writer.

Meanwhile, after finishing THE LAST SUPPER and getting that deal inked, I've been trying to finish the next book, and it's been a struggle. Not just because it's been difficult settling on what the next book should be, but also because I've had to put a lot of energy into maintaining my self-published stuff so that it doesn't go stagnant. Sales have been down the last few months as my attention has been elsewhere, and that has been disappointing. While I don't ever expect the money from this venture to pay my rent, I would like for it to be a bit more fruitful. But in order to do that, I have to take a lot of time away from my novel writing. I have to "water the garden," as it were, by making sure there is fresh work up there at least semi-regularly. I also have to maintain some semblance of marketing. I also have to make covers and edit and write blogs and package stuff to keep the readers engaged, because obviously I want them to be there when LAST SUPPER finally comes out next year. 

I see my more ardent self-publishing colleagues doing all of these things and more in order to create a larger presence. They've established their own imprints. They're doing print layouts, cover design, editing, giveaways, producing their own trailers and other events. They're taking on a staggering amount of work that's usually assumed by a full-time publisher, all while writing. These people are like machines, and I envy them a little, but I have no desire to do what they do. This is one reason why Amanda Hocking, self-publishing queen and Amazon millionaire, ultimately signed with St. Martin's Press, even though it would mean less money for her. Because she too wanted to be strictly a writer and not a publisher. She wanted to throw her books at her editor and go "fix that shit," and then start the next book.

I wish my writer/publisher colleagues the best of luck with their self-publishing endeavors, because clearly they have the patience and the ability to carry on with it (obviously they enjoy it on some level, or they wouldn't be doing it). As for me, I'm hoping that my strategy of devoting more of my energy to my writing so that other people, the ones whose passion it is to find and acquire new talent and to turn that talent into a goldmine, can take notice and turn ME into their goldmine. I normally avoid phrases like this, but there is really no right or wrong way here.  

So in the meantime, I consider self-publishing a little "side" thing I do to keep my name somewhat relevant and fresh for readers and primed for when or if a big breakthrough should happen. I always have. This has never been a choice between ideologies for me. It's about pragmatism and shrewdness, about using self-publishing as a springboard rather than a platform or a soapbox.